File Image: IOL
LONDON - Losing your life savings increases your risk of an early death, new research suggests.

Middle-aged adults who lose the majority of their wealth face a 50 per cent higher risk of dying in the next two decades.

Scientists today blamed the dire effects that losing hard-earned cash can have on mental health - which drives unhealthy lifestyles.

They also warned being unable to afford medical help in the US could be behind the greater chances of dying prematurely. 

The 20-year study, conducted by experts at Northwestern and Michigan universities, follows the Great Recession between 2008 and 2010. 

It is considered the most significant financial crash since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It rocked several countries and dented the US economy.

The nation's 401(k)s were jokingly called 201(ks) because workers lost, on average, 25 per cent of their savings in the first year of the crisis.  

However, Dr Lindsay Pool, lead author of the study, from Northwestern University, warned the findings strike more than just those affected by the recession.

She said: 'We found losing your life-savings has a profound effect on person's long-term health.

'It's a very pervasive issue. It wasn't just a few individuals but more than 25 per cent of Americans had a wealth shock over the 20 years of the study.'

It is considered the most significant financial crash since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It rocked several countries and dented the US economy.

The nation's 401(k)s were jokingly called 201(ks) because workers lost, on average, 25 per cent of their savings in the first year of the crisis.  

However, Dr Lindsay Pool, lead author of the study, from Northwestern University, warned the findings strike more than just those affected by the recession.

She said: 'We found losing your life-savings has a profound effect on person's long-term health.

'It's a very pervasive issue. It wasn't just a few individuals but more than 25 per cent of Americans had a wealth shock over the 20 years of the study.'

Researchers used data from 8,000 adults in the Health and Retirement Study from the National Institute on Aging.

It found a loss of three quarters or more of total wealth boosted a patient's risk of dying from all causes by 50 per cent in the next 20 years. 

This is the equivalent of someone with a £10,000 ($14,045) kitty losing £7,500 ($10,571).

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is the first to look at the long-term effects of a large financial loss.

Professor Carlos Mendes de Leon, from Michigan's School of Public Health, said: 'Our findings offer new evidence for a potentially important social determinant of health that so far has not been recognised: sudden loss of wealth in late middle or older age.' 

The study also examined a group of low-income people who didn't have any savings and who are considered socially vulnerable in terms of their health.

Their increased risk of mortality over 20 years was 67 per cent, according to the researchers.

Dr Pool added: 'The most surprising finding was that having wealth and losing it is almost as bad for your life expectancy as never having wealth.' 

The new study builds on prior research in the wake of the Great Recession from 2007 to the early 2010s. 

Those studies examined depression, blood pressure and other markers of stress that changed as peoples' financial circumstances took a nosedive.

Dr Pool added: 'This shows clinicians need to have an awareness of their patients' financial circumstances.

'It's something they need to ask about to understand if their patients may be at an increased health risk.'

Dr Pool and her colleagues are set to study the mechanisms that lead to higher mortality chances after a big financial loss.

She added: 'Why are people dying, and can we intervene at some point in a way that might reverse the course of that increased risk?'

-DAILY MAIL